Academics & Faculty

UCLA Program Teaches Spanish to Children in South Los Angeles

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Second-grader Leslie has found anew passion in her life — Spanish. And she's not shy about it.

"Buenos dias, buenas tardes, chocolate, chocolate," Leslie said whenasked to repeat the words she knows in Spanish. "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco."

Leslie is taking Spanish classesafter school through Listos!, a program funded by the UCLA Center forCommunity Partnerships and organized by the UCLA Department of Spanish andPortuguese and the nonprofit organizations Abrazar and the Foundation for Second Chances mentoring program. Classesare held after school three times a week at 42nd Street Elementary School in the Leimert Parkarea of South Los Angeles.

The classes target AfricanAmerican youth who live in neighborhoods in which Spanish speakers are abundant.Organizers hope the classes will help improve communication and relationshipsbetween African American and Latino communities.

"I love it," said Leslie's mother,Emelia James, about Listos!. "She just wants to say things in Spanish all thetime. She'll say, 'Ask me how to say this.' "

Spanish is a necessity in a citythat is increasingly Latino, said James, who also has started taking Spanishclasses. She wants Leslie to start speaking Spanish young so that she won'thave to struggle later in life to learn a new language.

That is exactly the goal of theprogram, which is aimed at elementary school children, said Susan Plann, a UCLASpanish professor who worked with several UCLA Spanish students to developlearning materials and courses for Listos!.

Children are more likely to learna language fluently if they are exposed to it before their teen years, Plannsaid. After that, it is more difficult for a person to learn a languagefluently.

Carlene Davis, who was frustratedby her lack of Spanish in such a diverse city, founded the Abrazar program in2003 to teach Spanish to African American children. Listos!, which means both "smart" and "ready" inSpanish, is Abrazar's collaborative program with UCLA.

"I took Spanish for four years inhigh school and I still wasn't bilingual," said Davis, who has a full-time joband runs the Spanish programs in her spare time. "We start learning otherlanguages in high school in this country, and it's really too late to start asecond language."

In addition, Los Angeles public schools place minimal attention on dual-languageacquisition for elementary school children, instead focusing on English as aSecond Language classes and meeting the requirements of the federal No ChildLeft Behind Act, said Davis.The opportunity to provide many Los Angeles youth with a second-language skill, which willprepare them to meet the needs of a diverse workforce and society, is beingmissed, she said.

"Even just being able to say'hello' or 'my name is so-and-so' opens bridges," she added.

The program also dovetails with anew academic major created by the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguesethat is awaiting final approval by the university. The major will be known as"Community and Culture" and is aimed at preparing students for a wide varietyof activities that require civic engagement, language skills and an acquiredsensitivity to cultural differences.

Plann hopes the partnership haslaid the foundation to start language programs at other schools throughout Los Angeles.

UCLA students Brenda Walsh andAida Hernndez started teaching the classes during fall 2006, and Walsh, alongwith Gladys Gudino, is teaching this winter as well. Spanish graduate studentMaritza Fonseca also provided training for the classes.

Plann and Davis received fundingfor Listos! from the UCLA Center for CommunityPartnerships, whosegoal is to nurture and develop partnerships between community groups and UCLAthat produce joint efforts to improve the quality of life for area residents.

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